Last January, my partner and I were invited to attend an event at the Bulgari Hotel in London for Glass magazine’s seventh birthday celebration.
Strictly a black tie occasion, as one would expect, we happily accepted and made our way on a rather cold and blustery Wednesday evening in late January.
The Bulgari Hotel seems a perfect fit for this stylish magazine’s birthday. As we arrived we are taken down to the ballroom and were welcomed with a glass of Ruinart Champagne as we joined the attendees and mingled in a room adorned with beautiful floor length dresses displayed on headless mannequins.
After an hour or so we headed through to the dining area and settled into our seats. Tet Yap, the founder of Glass, made a thoughtful speech and reminded us all that the purpose behind Glass was not just to produce a beautiful publication, but to ‘provide access to the genuinely inspiring adventures in fashion, art, music and design that allow us to further imagine and create.’ Wishing to take things further, they’re finding inspiring stories and share them with the world.
All very noble, and I felt intrigued by the teams working at Glass, which is, after all, ‘not just another fashion publication’.
I started chatting to the people at our table and I was gratefully surprised that this wasn’t going to turn out to be another evening of boring chit chat and filling in the blanks. After getting acquainted with the people either side of me the conversation extended over to the other side of the table.
It was at this point that the gentleman to my right brought up the subject of food and wine, saying he was never sure how to pair the two. To start we were served poached salmon, the main course moved over to a sizeable piece of beef, followed by a chocolate and coffee tart. The wine was flowing and it was hard to keep tabs on how much I had drunk as my glass was filled the moment it was empty. Both white and red are offered and I can see his point.
Simply, I said ‘it depends what’s important to you, do you prefer wine or food? Put the wine or food first depending on your preference.’ They will of course have an effect on each other but in general, food has more impact on the way a wine will taste than the other way around.
By the end of the evening, this taste consideration for the majority of people, had been forgotten and turned into a glittering party. His words left me pondering the point however. What’s most important is the individual and their taste. People have different sensitivities to flavours and aromas, and thus the same level of bitterness can affect one person much more strongly than another.
It’s ok to enjoy what you drink and play with the rules a little when it comes to red wines with meat and white wines with fish, you can even swap them around. There are some excellent red wines that go well with salads and chicken, experiment a little and notice the interactions between your taste buds and the flavours of the wine. It’s ok to do your own thing, wine is subjective, it's your taste and that's what matters.
Which brings me aptly onto my notes of the next part of the Wine Spirit and Educational Trust course.
Points to consider in Food.
There are two components in food - Sweetness and Umami (savory taste) - that tend to make wines taste harder (more astringent, bitter, more acidic) and two components - Salt and Acid - whose presence in food tends to make wines taste softer (less astringent and bitter, less acidic).
As mentioned above Food has more of an impact on the way wine tastes.
Sweetness in Food- Increases the perception of bitterness, acidity and the burning effect of the alcohol in the wine and decreases the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness in wine.
For example sweetness in a dish can make a dry wine seem to lose its fruit and be more acidic. A good general rule for dishes containing sugar is to select a wine that has a higher level of sweetness.
Umami in Food- Increases the perception of bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn in wine and decreases the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness in the wine.
Acidity in Food- Increases the perception of Body, sweetness and fruitiness in wine. It decreases the perception of acidity in wine.
Salt in Food- Increases the perception of body in wine and decreases the perception of bitterness and acidity in wine.
Bitterness in Food
- Increases bitterness in wine.
Chilli heat in Food- Increases the perception of bitterness,acidity and alcohol burn whilst decreasing the perception of body, richness and sweetness of wine.
Foods that are difficult to pair with wine contain high levels of umami without salt to counteract the hardening effects of wine. Such as, asparagus, eggs, mushrooms and ripe soft cheeses. Some acidity in food is generally a good thing for pairing with wine as it can bring a very high acid wine into balance and enhance the fruitiness. If the level of acidity in the wine is low it can make the wine seem flat and lacking focus. Salt is a ‘wine friendly’ component of food which can help to soften some harder elements.
- It is usually best to match the flavour intensities of food and wine together so that neither overpowers the other. On occasion, some intensely flavoured foods, such as a curry, can be successfully paired with a lightly flavoured wine. Equally, lightly flavoured desserts can be paired with intensely flavoured sweet wines.
Acid and Fat - Generally acidic wines and fatty, oily foods are a pleasing combination due to the acidic wine cutting through the richness of the food and cleaning up the palate. This is a subjective effect.
Sweet and Salty- Also subjective is the pleasure of combining sweet and salty flavours, which leads to some very successful food and wine pairings, such as sweet wine and blue cheese.
Principles in pairings:
Sugar- the levels of sugar in a dish should be at least matched by the wine.
Umami- Dishes high in umami should be paired with wines that are more fruity than tannic. The umami will emphasise the bitterness of the tannins. Another tip is to add salt or acid to the dish to balance the umami without disrupting the character of the dish.
Bitterness- dishes high in bitterness will emphasise bitterness in wine. Try white wines or low tannin reds.
Chilli heat- same rules with bitterness although keep the alcohol levels low in the wine and try wines with high levels of fruitiness and sweetness.
High acid foods -should generally be matched with high acid wines, otherwise the wine can taste too soft.
When choosing a wine it’s important to consider the structural components of the wine and how complex the flavours are. The more components and complexity a wine has, enables further potential for interesting pairing but also makes it more complicated. Wines that are high in bitterness from oak and skin tannins combined with high levels of alcohol with complex flavours are the hardest to pair.
The easiest wines to pair are simple unoaked wines with little residual sugar. This may be a safe combination but also means that any flavours brought out by the pairing will be less interesting.
Start with what you know and examine what works when pairing wine and food. There are many pairings well known, for example Champagne and Oysters. This is a good pairing because the champagne is unoaked, so there is no bitterness to spoil the umami taste of the oysters, relatively light in flavour so it doesn’t overwhelm the delicate flavour of oysters and high in acid to cut through the oliy nature of the Oysters.